My eyelids feel so heavy…
I’m startled awake and bump my coffee with my elbow. A brown pool of cold Folgers and congealed half-n-half flows across the audit sheets. “Crap.”
The man at the front desk laughs. “Sorry to startle you.”
“It’s fine,” I say, not bothering to look at him because I’m searching for paper towels instead. Finding none, I grab my sweater from the back of the chair and blot the papers.
“Need some tissues?” he asks.
“No, I’m fine.” Embarrassed for being such a klutz in front of a guest, I keep my head down and drag my sleepy self to the front desk. Finally, I look up and am met with a stunningly handsome smile. “Oh, how can I help you?”
“Where’s Jerry?” He holds up a small paper bag. There’s a stack of white boxes beside him.
“I don’t know. Would you like me to page him?”
“No need. I’ll just leave these here. Custard-filled. He loves those.”
I notice his shirt, embroidered with Hermann’s Bakery in a simple script font on the right pocket. His hair is a dusty brown and has that trendy bed-head look which I usually consider lazy, but on him, it’s rather adorable. He’s clean-shaven and reasonably tall.
His eyes crinkle when he smiles again. “I’m Henry. You new here?”
“Yes, it’s my first night.” I point to the temporary name tag with my name written in black sharpie. “I’m Jane.”
“Nice to meet you. They call me the ‘Donut Guy’.”
He offers his hand, and I take it. His grip is warm and strong, and jump-starts a few sleepy neurons. Henry. And Jane Seymour. The third wife of Henry VIII, as legend says, was reportedly the love of his life. Why does my mind have to venture there, of all places? I’m not ready to heal my broken heart over Nick with Henry the Donut Guy, no matter how Tudorific our names are.
I let go of his hand and take the paper bag. “I’ll be sure to give these to Jerry.”
“Would you like one?”
“I probably shouldn’t…” My stomach rumbles in disagreement.
“They’re complimentary. The hotel orders more than enough, trust me.”
“Oh, then I’ll take a donut with chocolate icing if you have one.”
He opens one of the boxes and holds it within my reach. I pick up a donut and take a bite. Still warm and melt-in-your-mouth good.
“Mmm, this is delicious.”
Henry closes the box and takes a tissue from the Kleenex dispenser beside the wall. Why hadn’t I noticed those before I sacrificed my poor sweater? He reaches across the front desk and wipes the corner of my mouth. Warmth crawls up my cheeks.
“You had a little icing there,” he says with that knee-weakening smile.
All is quiet until about 11: 30 PM. I’m checking in a late arrival when Jerry skulks through the lobby like a coveralled sasquatch on the prowl. He’s holding the cage in one hand and a broom in the other.
The guest is a young man with blond dreadlocks and a t-shirt with Hemptosis embroidered on the front pocket. “Dude,” he whispers to me while watching Jerry disappear down the hall, “what’s going on?”
“A poodle,” I say. “Someone lost a poodle.”
Hemp Boy chuckles. “Awesome. Must be some tripped out poodle. A little hashish might calm him down.” He pats his jeans pocket and winks.
“I…don’t think that’ll be necessary. Here’s your key.”
I don’t know if he’s really mistaken me for a guy or if he’s just stoned, so I smile sweetly and add, “This is a non-smoking facility, by the way. Have a great night.”
“Yeah, you too. If you need any hemp accessories, we got good stuff, man. Shirts, shoes, purses, you name it.” He tosses a business card on the front desk and swaggers off, but stops before reaching the hall and looks at the ceiling. “There’s something banging around up there.” He turns to me and whispers, “Maybe it’s the poodle. Want me to get him?”
“No, no, enjoy your night.” I wait for him to shrug and disappear down the hall. Then, I frantically page Jerry:Snake, here, ceiling.
Two minutes later, Jerry appears, broom in one hand and ladder in the other. He stands frozen for a second, one ear turned upward, and then sets up the ladder in the breakfast area. He climbs up and removes a ceiling tile.
“Did you find it?” God, I hope he’s found it.
Mrs. Roche shuffles through the lobby in her robe and slippers. She removes a hand towel from her head and wraps it around the naked David statue like he’s just stepped from the shower.
I glance at Jerry. “Um, Mrs. Roche, could I get you something?”
“It’s just my rheumatism. No need to fuss over me. A cup of tea usually helps.” She opens a drawer. “Now where are those tea bags?”
Jerry’s in up to his waist now. A few bangs and bumps echo from the ceiling.
“I can get it for you,” I say, emerging from behind the front desk in the hopes of ushering her out. “I’ll even bring it to your room.”
“Nonsense. I’m not helpless.”
My cell phone buzzes in my pocket. I pull it out and see yet another text from Nick: I’m back in town. Call me.
No, no, no, this cannot be happening. I’ll have to call and tell him to go rot in an unnaturally warm place. If worse comes to worst, I’ll threaten to get a restraining order. Not that I’m frightened of him—he’s too cowardly and conniving to be violent. It’s just the principle of the thing. I turn back toward the front desk and click on his number; he answers in two rings.
“Don’t babe me. Why are you calling, and what do you mean you’re back in town?”
“I’m at the airport. Can you pick me up?”
“What?!” I turn back around to see if Jerry’s made any progress with the snake hunting.
“Okay, yeah, never mind. I’ll get a cab. Just wanted to tell you-”
“Oh dear lord. Hold please.” A scaly head attached to a long, spotted body hangs down by Mrs. Roche’s ear. She’s still rummaging through the drawer, oblivious to her reptilian neighbor. Jerry hurries down the ladder.
“Can’t talk now. Stop calling, and leave me alone.” I click END and slide the phone in my pocket. “Mrs. Roche, don’t move.”
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“Relieving you, hun.”
“You don’t need to do that. We’re full up, but with Jerry and a housekeeper on call, it’s nothing I can’t manage.”
“I know you can manage, but I’m here to relieve you on strict orders.”
“Your cutie-patootie. He wants you over at his house at 6:30 sharp.” Carol winks and pops a piece of Wrigley’s in her mouth. Her hoop earrings sway as she chomps happily.
“But, but…” My brain is stuck in a loop of buts. Henry usually eats dinner with me at the hotel when I’m working, but has never asked me to take a day off or leave early. Maybe he’s sick, but he was fine when he left for work this morning. Susan said he was here earlier, but he never said anything to me or stopped by the front desk.
Carol reaches down, grabs my purse, and puts it in my arms. “Now shoo – don’t keep the Donut Guy waiting.”
“Okay.” I clock out, going into autopilot as I put on my coat and head to my car.
Logical Me is nowhere to be found, so my rattled brain drifts a few years back to the night Nick took me out to dinner, only to tell me he wanted a divorce because he was leaving with Brandy for California. My trembling hands can barely hold the key fob as I unlock the car and get in. Twenty minutes later with a headache and churning stomach, I arrive at Henry’s house. His renovations to his grandfather’s former residence are almost done. The place looks brand new with freshly painted siding and shutters. But what if he doesn’t want me to be part of it anymore?
I raise my hand to knock on the door when Henry opens it and engulfs me in a tight, warm hug. “So glad you could get off early. I take it Carol came through for me.”
He pulls me inside and helps me out of my coat. Then he hangs it and my purse on the coat rack.
“Yeah, but why did you have her do that? Is everything okay?” Delicious aromas are coming from the kitchen. My legs wobble. My voice becomes shrill with rising hysteria. “Why were you at the hotel today? Susan saw you. You didn’t talk to me.”
He grins and heads toward the kitchen where he takes a couple of wine glasses from the rack over the island. “You like Chardonnay, right?”
I follow, leaning against the counter for support. “Yeah, but…what’s this all this about?”
He’s got the table set with the good china, complete with forks, knives, and spoons. Even cloth napkins. Soft music plays from his stereo in the living room. It’s Kenny G. Everyone knows that Kenny G isn’t breakup music. It’s romantic night music. What if he’s not breaking up with me? What if, instead, he’s getting ready to propose? It’s suddenly hard to breathe. I may need a paper bag because I don’t know what’s worse – being faced with another breakup or another marriage.
Henry finishes pouring and looks up with a concerned frown. He comes around to me and takes both my hands in his, kissing my knuckles. “Relax, Jane. It’s not what you think.”
“Well, I never can be exactly sure about what’s going on in that beautiful mind of yours, but I know you’re not ready for marriage.”
Crazed gorilla mode kicks in. Crap, it must be a breakup. Kenny G’s a liar!
Other writing pursuits include serving as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s seven week online course, F2K. She has also published two children’s books (Quentin’s Problem & Fuzzy Buzzy’s Treasure) under the name Misty Baker.
When she’s not writing fiction, Mysti works as a freelance editor and copywriter. She also reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specfic publication. She resides in KY with her husband, three children and too many pets